The Gender Wage Gap May Only Get Worse in Trump’s America


I recently had to document for a male friend (who I consider politically savvy) that, yes, it is a factual truth that women who possess the same education, skills, experience and qualifications do make less on average than male colleagues holding the same job. He didn’t know why.

Yes, it’s partly because women still tend to choose college majors that channel them into lower-paid career fields. Yes, it’s partly because most women gratefully accept the first salary offer an employer extends, while men getting the same job offer usually negotiate for more. And yes, it’s partly because women are typically the ones juggling careers and parenting – and are the ones who must take maternity leave.

But it’s less, statistics tell us, about all of those contributing factors than it is about the simple fact that employers still offer women less than they offer men – from the day we flip those tassels on our graduation caps and get our first “real” job, until the final day of our careers. Data show that American women’s pay gap doesn’t wait for the birth of our first child to start forming: it shows up immediately after graduation.

As Antoinette Flores wrote in American Progress Report on Sept. 13, 2016, “Across every college sector, women…had lower annual earnings 10 years after entering higher education than the annual earnings of their male peers only six years after entering. This holds true both before and after adjusting the earnings data for inflation. For students from the nation’s most elite colleges, men’s earnings outpace women’s by tens of thousands of dollars each year, with gaps showing up soon after they enter the workforce. And while there are some colleges whose female students earn more after leaving than their male students, women from these schools have lower-than-average earnings that only narrowly outpace their male peers’.”

Even when women are the majority of workers in an industry – take nurses for example – we’re paid less. Ninety-two percent of all nurses in the U.S. are women, but a 2015 University of California, San Francisco study showed that unadjusted salaries for male nurses were an average $10,000 higher than salaries for female nurses. Even when they adjusted the data to account for education, experience and practice area, men still earned $5,148 more.

Because women still assume more responsibility for child and family care, they’re more likely to take day shifts and less likely to accept overtime. So they earn less out of necessity.

When women take maternity leave, things get even worse. Having kids isn’t the sole reason women earn less than their male work “equals” – but it’s often why women fall behind for good.

Women’s prime childbearing years occur between the ages of 25 and 35 – which just happens to be when the gender wage gap grows the fastest. And becomes a career-long drag on women’s earning potential.

As a study reported in the New York Times on April 9, 2018 put it, “when women have their first baby between age 25 and 35, their pay never recovers…women who have their first baby before 25 or after 35 eventually close the pay gap…”

Donald’s not making things any better

So how has Donald Trump helped American women pursue income equality? He hasn’t.

With First Daughter Ivanka’s blessing, Trump announced in fall 2017 that he was blocking an Obama Administration rule requiring private employers with more than 100 workers to track worker pay by gender, race and ethnicity. The National Women’s Law Center and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement quickly filed suit, arguing that Trump’s action would impede efforts to close gender and racial pay gaps.

As their suit stated, “A dearth of comparative salary and wage information may contribute to the persistence of race and gender pay gaps, and limit attempts to remedy them. As a result, employees face significant obstacles in gathering the information that would indicate they have experienced pay discrimination, which undermines their ability to challenge such discrimination.”

Other Trump administration actions represent more indirect – but equally harmful – assaults on pay equity. Recent attacks on educational access and affordability, for example, will disproportionately impact women – who rely on educational advancement and degree attainment to help boost them up the career and wage ladder.

Shortly after entering the White House in January 2017, Trump set out to strip “many of the tax benefits that made attending college and graduate programs as well as repaying student loans more affordable,” reported Inside Higher Ed on Nov. 30, 2017.

The GOP happily included many of Trump’s targets in its 2017 tax bill. They sought to end student loan interest deductibility, and the tax-free status of graduate student tuition waivers and employer tuition reimbursement.

They proposed killing the deductibility of state and local taxes on individual Federal tax returns, which Inside Higher Ed also reported, “could have even bigger long-term consequences for public higher education by placing a huge strain on state budgets.” The final bill capped those deductions instead of killing them outright.

Fortunately, massive public outcry prevented most of those policies from being enacted this year. But among the GOP’s “successes” in 2017 was the repeal of college loan forgiveness for borrowers who become permanently disabled or for co-signers on loans of students who die before repaying a loan.

And then, Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos jumped in to “help.” She reinstated hefty loan collection fees for some college loan borrowers whose loans had gone into default – causing student debt to jump by $47 billion in Trump’s first year in office, to more than $1.4 trillion. Student loan debt now represents 10 percent of all consumer debt in America.

She also began dismantling two key consumer protection rules affecting students. One held non-degree career education programs accountable when their graduates end up with excessive debt, and the other allowed student borrowers defrauded by institutions to obtain loan forgiveness.

When four state attorneys general sued the Department of Education for the latter move, DeVos responded with a new plan: her department would make it harder for students to receive loan forgiveness, by changing the borrowers’ legal standard from “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence,” cutting the filing deadline from six years to three, and cutting state attorneys general out of the legal process by requiring borrowers instead of the state to obtain state or federal court judgments against a school.

And in March 2018, the Department began notifying borrowers defrauded by unscrupulous for-profit schools – think “Trump University” – that they will now be forgiven only half of their federal student loan debt instead of the full amount they’d borrowed.

For the fiscal year 2019 budget, Trump and DeVos have resuscitated many of their rejected proposals, including cutting work-study program funding by 50 percent, axing loan forgiveness for graduates who go to work in public sector jobs, shortening the student loan repayment timeframe, increasing the percentage of a worker’s income that can be taken for student loan repayment, and ending interest waivers for low-income students who are still in school.

If approved, these changes will cost student borrowers more than $200 billion over the next decade.

And since women today are more likely than men to pursue, and complete, post-high-school education, a majority of those borrowers are women…

Yeah, you get the picture. It ain’t pretty.

// This report is an excerpt from Marcy Miroff Rothenberg’s Ms. Nice Guy Lost – Here’s How Women Can Win, now in pre-publication review.

2 thoughts on “The Gender Wage Gap May Only Get Worse in Trump’s America

  1. Very informative. Republicans still do not believe there’s a pay gap. I think you pretty much summed up that there certainly is.

  2. Ironically, the first response this got on Twitter asserted that pay inequity is nonexistent. Seems we still have some persuading to do.

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